Guns and the Court

The Supreme Court’s 5-to-4 decision on June 28 in McDonald v. Chicago overturned that city’s strict ban on handgun ownership. The ruling means that a homeowner may keep a handgun for self-defense. It marks a setback for gun control advocates and a victory for gun-rights proponents who claim that guns in the home make people safer. But the National Institute of Justice says the opposite, that keeping a gun in the home is associated with an increased risk of violent death by suicide or homicide and offers little protection from homicide at the hands of an intruder.

Unlike its 2008 ruling in Heller v. District of Columbia, which applied only to federal enclaves like the District, the court’s current decision applies in all states and localities. But the court’s recent ruling notes that its decision does not necessarily strike down all local firearms regulations around the nation. Writing for the majority in the recent ruling, Justice Samuel Alito observed that the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms is not “a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever for whatsoever purpose,” nor was the court questioning regulations such as those that prevent the mentally ill and felons from having guns. The 14th Amendment also entered into the decision, when Justice Alito wrote that the court’s decision stemmed partly from the amendment, whose framers wanted to make sure that African Americans in the South could protect themselves from white supremacists.


Responding to the court’s decision, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley proposed alternative restrictions that he hopes will pass muster. In addition to requiring a firearms safety class and an exam, Daley’s proposal bans gun shops in Chicago. It also prohibits gun owners from stepping outside their homes, even onto their own porch with a handgun. In Chicago, on the third weekend of this past June, the very month of the Supreme Court’s decision, 50 people were shot; and seven of them died. Nationwide each year an average of 30,000 people die in gun violence, suicide and mass killings.

But Chicago’s new ordinance is already facing a lawsuit. The Illinois Association of Firearms Retailers has filed suit, alleging that the ordinance infringes on the residents’ constitutional right to bear arms. The months and years ahead will bring many such challenges to local and state laws by gun-rights activists intent on overturning anti-gun ordinances. Kristen Rand, legislative director of the Violence Policy Center, has predicted that the litigation will “force cities, counties and states to expend scarce resources to defend longstanding, effective public safety laws.” But she told America that many of the challenges will probably withstand judicial scrutiny. The reconstituted gun laws in the District of Columbia—close to what they were before the Heller case—now have restrictive licensing requirements “that discourage people from choosing to bring a gun into their home, and this has meant that comparatively few there have legally obtained handguns.” The U.S. District Court has upheld the new ordinance.

New York City’s stringent gun laws are almost sure to be challenged, as are New Jersey’s. The latter approved a law last year that prohibits individuals from purchasing more than one gun every 30 days. The New Jersey law also requires a prospective purchaser to obtain a police-issued permit for each handgun purchased and to undergo fingerprinting and background checks. On the West coast, California also expects challenges by gun-rights groups. It has long had statewide restrictions on the sale and possession of military-style automatic weapons. Los Angeles’ limits are among the most stringent: they ban the sale or transfer of easily concealed weapons and cheap handguns. Overall, the state’s strict laws have proven successful. Since 1993, the mortality rate from gun-related deaths there has fallen 20 percent more than in the rest of the nation.

Now, gun groups are intent on challenging restrictive laws around the nation and on expanding so-called open-carry and concealed weapons initiatives. The governor of Louisiana has signed into law a provision that allows people to carry handguns into churches. Virginia permits gun owners to carry their weapons into establishments that serve liquor. The gun violence prevention community is working to prevent such laws and to counter the gun lobby’s illusory message that more guns make us safer. The Centers for Disease Control has reported that American children age 14 and under are 16 times more likely than children in other industrialized nations to be murdered with a gun and 11 times more likely to commit suicide with a gun. Statistics like these suggest the need for more and better, rather than fewer and weaker, gun control laws.

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Mike Evans
8 years 6 months ago
Unfortunately the extremists on both sides of this issue will not acknowledge any common ground. Even Senator Feinstein has had to abandon her crusade against assault weapons for lack of support from shaky democrats in southern and middle states. We are witnessing a return to the wild, wild west and soon will have Mexican and Colombian style shoot-outs in our neighborhoods. Will we have to hire war contractors to patrol our communities? How many more young people will we have to bury as a result of an epidemic of drive by shootings?
TM Lutas
8 years 6 months ago
Dueling studies have come out demonstrating contradictory "facts" about guns. One thing we do know, in the many states that have liberalized their gun rules, none of them have turned into the wild west and there is little appetite to roll back gun rights because of increased street violence due to legal guns. That is because legal guns are not used in most street violence. The real world evidence has come out against the gun controllers.
John Siegmund
8 years 6 months ago
An armed society is a more polite society.  "Shall not be infringed"  in the 2nd amendment is pretty clear language.
James Sheehan
8 years 6 months ago

Conservatives are all for state rights when it has to do with civil rights or health care.  But when it comes to gun rights they want a free for all.  Why this attachments to guns?  Is an assalt rifle or machine gun used for hunting food or people? 

Just an observation on the comment above, those states that have the liberalized gun laws, also have the worst record on education and healthcare.

"all those whop take the sword will perish by the sword" Mt. 26: 52

Paul Kelley
8 years 6 months ago
It is unfortunate that the court with, I believe, a Catholic majority, has taken such an unChistian view.
C Walter Mattingly
8 years 6 months ago
Vermont has one of the two or three least restrictive state gun control laws in the US; excepting for schools and courts of law, almost none, really. The District of Columbia has among the most  restrictive gun control laws, including registration laws, handgun restrictions, etc.

In which area do you feel safer, Vermont or the District of Columbia? Which public school system do you feel has the stronger programs, Vermont or DC? (Granted, if Ms. Rhee stays in charge for a decade, things could improve greatly in DC.)
James Caruso
8 years 6 months ago
The editors refer to: "...the gun lobby’s illusory message that more guns make us safer."

They don't provide any evidence of this.  Certainly with fewer guns, their will be fewer deaths by guns.   I would also suspect there would be a greater number of deaths by othe means, for example, knives.  Lower deaths is not the only criterion that should be used in evaluating the pros and cons of gun ownership.  In a war, if one side decided to lay down its weapons, I submit there would be fewer deaths.  There might also be enslavement, oppression, robbery, rape, and a myriad of other evils if the victor did not happen to be one of the good guys.  It's not about a death tally; it's about the right of every person to defend himself and his loved ones and the right to possess sufficient means to do so. 
Michael Lonie
8 years 5 months ago

Regarding the article..."Guns and the Court"...I read today where a driver for a warehouse in Connecticut, frustrated at having to resign because he was caught stealing on the job, pulled out a handgun and killed 8 of his coworkers, before killing himself.

Back in July, I read how a 9 year old boy in Los Angeles killed his 2 year old brother with a hand gun. And of course most of us are painfully aware of the deaths of students at high schools and colleges around the country at the hands of gun toting individuals.

I wonder if Justice Alito, the members of the Supreme Court who voted to overturn Chicago's strict ban on gun ownership or other gun proponents would be willing to meet face to face with the  families of these victims and explain to them the principle behind the right to bear arms for purposes of self defense.

When are we ever going to learn that a gun in anybody's hands is not a good idea.


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